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Smile, Tesla Wants Your Photo

The Dutch DPA is looking into Tesla and the photos the cars take of people passing by.

One evening I was hit by a flashlight from a German-registered Tesla in front of me in the city of Copenhagen. It took a photo. Two days later another Danish-registered Tesla did the same! I was obviously so close to them that they saw me as a potential thieve, but I just passed by on the pavement where it was parked. I was annoyed, and thought; will every car in the future be allowed to photograph everybody passing by, what do they use the data for, how is it stored and for how long? I filed a complaint with the Danish Data Protection Agency.

After some months I got a letter from the DPA telling me that that it all depends on whether it is a person or a company taking the photo. If it is a person, it is okay, but if it is a company, it can be different.

“More specifically, the Danish Data Protection Authority can inform you that we are currently part of a European cooperation in relation to Tesla and their cars’ photography of persons. The cooperation is led by the Dutch data protection authority, ‘Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens’, as Tesla’s European headquarters are in the Netherlands,” the letter says and continues:

The investigation into Tesla and its cars’ photography focuses in particular on the legal basis for such photography and on so-called privacy by design, as referred to in Article 25 of the Data Protection Regulation on data protection by design and data protection by default. The processing of personal data triggered by the new type of cars raises a number of issues in relation to data protection law, and the EDPS – and its European counterparts – will regularly update the public on these issues.

I’ve spoken to an owner of a rather new Tesla, who told me that the pictures are stored on a USB stick but he does not know whether the company, Tesla, keeps the data. In these data harvesting era, it is hard to believe that Tesla would let only the owner have the pictures on a USB stick, but in such case it would be privacy-preservation and really cool.

Yet, recently Tesla told the Danish magasine FDM that they would hand over data it collected to a another Tesla-owner, who asked for them. ‘Logs from the cars are our data,” Tesla said and added; “We don’t hand over these data, and by the way, they are useless unless you know to read the code.” (article below in Danish)

According to the portability principle of GDPR, individuals have a right to their own data and to have them ported to a service or their own cloud in a readable format. FDM, car owners organisation in Denmark, who believes the data belongs to the owner of the car, are working to enhance the rights of car owners together with other similar European organisations.

If you are in contact with the Dutch DPA the Tesla case has this ID-number: z2019-18307.